Marines use snowmobiles, aircraft to deliver toys to remote Alaskan villages

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Keith Lowell, inspector-instructor assigned to Detachment Delta Company, 4th Law Enforcement Battalion, Marine Forces Reserve, poses for a photo while dressed as Santa Claus with students from June Nelson Elementary School in K

Santa’s sleigh got a break for some gift deliveries this month in Alaska.

Marines traveled by snowmobile and aircraft to deliver toys to children in remote Arctic villages to support Toys for Tots.

Alaska’s Northwest Arctic Borough is larger than the state of Indiana yet boasts a population of under 7,800 residents residing within 11 different communities, many of whom are Alaskan Natives. Infrastructure is extremely limited to the villages and towns of the borough.


U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Robert Golike shows Sgt. Joshua Purrington how to navigate the Kuskokwim Valley from the air on their way to deliver toys to a local village during a Toys for Tots event in the Kuskokwim Valley, Alaska on Dec. 3, 2021. Golike i

So that’s where the Marines with Delta Company, 4th Law Enforcement Battalion, Marine Forces Reserve, also known as the Alaska Marines, step in.

By way of donated flights on small propeller planes and snowmobiles, the Marines travel to each remote community in the borough this holiday season with extra-special deliveries.

"Really, it seems like a lot of trouble, but it’s not," said U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Keith Lowell. "To see the sparkle in these kids’ eyes when they see Santa Claus coming into their school. When they come up and they get a gift from Santa Claus, it," he paused, "it’s so special."


Students of June Nelson Elementary School wait to receive their toys gifted by Toys for Tots and delivered by the U.S. Marines with Detachment Delta Company, 4th Law Enforcement Battalion, Marine Forces Reserve, in Kotzebue, Alaska, Dec. 12, 2022. (U

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The toys are first sorted when they reach the base near Anchorage and then travel 500 miles north to a town called Kotzebue.

Kotzebue is a larger city in the borough, 26 miles above the Arctic Circle, where many travel for essential shopping and community gatherings. From there, the Marines disperse onto the smaller communities.

Many dressed as Santa Clause as they hopped on the snowmobile for a trek that isn’t for the faint of heart.


U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Joshua Purrington, the armory chief for Delta Company, 4th Law Enforcement Battalion, rides away in a snowmobile after delivering toys to the children of Takotna School during a Toys for Tots event in Takotna, Alaska, Dec. 3, 2

The dangerous task of crossing hundreds of miles on snowmobiles in sub-zero weather becomes more like a guided expedition — and some locals do step in to help.

In total, the Marines sorted and shipped over 3,000 toys.

The Toys for Tots program is run by the Marine Corps and a nonprofit foundation. Started in 1947, the program now delivers 18 million toys to 7 million less fortunate children each year.

This story was reported from Detroit.